I never fail to marvel at the odd, utterly unpredictable process by which MMA fans choose what “controversial” decisions to care about.
Nick Diaz doesn’t get the nod over Carlos Condit? Robbery, I say! Mike Bisping squeaks past Matt Hamill? Home cooking at its worst! BJ Penn doesn’t get the decision over Georges St. Pierre? I hate wrestling! GSP’s a cheater! RAHHHHHH!
And yet other times, the chorus of fans is remarkably silent. Ellenberger vs. Sanchez was a razor-close decision featuring a possible 10-8 round—yet not a peep was made about that decision. Anthony Pettis, he of showtime kick legend, had an extremely close fight with Jeremy Stephens that no one got too worked up about.
I recall lots of talk about “everybody being a winner” when the ref raised Dan Henderson’s hand instead of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s—but switch Dan’s hand for Lyoto Machida’s that gets raised instead of Rua’s, and it was an affront to the fight gods.
It’s fascinating stuff. You could write a masters thesis on the psyche of the MMA fan when it comes to close decisions. Case in point: last weekend’s Frankie Edgar vs. Ben Henderson title fight.
Once again, Edgar put on one hell of a world title fight, and once again, he had to go through hell to do it. I joked during the event that after all his fights, Frankie must sit backstage in the dressing room, face mashed into hamburger meat, missing teeth as well as brain cells, thinking “This MMA stuff sucks! Why wasn’t I a plumber or something?”
This time, fate wasn’t so kind to Frankie. By fight’s end, both Dana White and myself had scored the fight for Frankie three rounds to two, despite Benson looking like he stepped off a treadmill and Frankie looking like he lost a headbutting contest with a locomotive. When the judges gave Henderson the nod, you could see the disappointment in Frankie’s face (what was left of it, anyways).
The 12-hour flight from Japan looking like Elephant Man would have been nicer with 12 pounds of gold to cuddle up to.
Fun fact: Last night, the reigning lightweight champion for almost two years—who removed the greatest 155-pounder of all time from the title picture forever and handed Gray Maynard the only loss that Gray himself didn’t self-inflict—lost his belt in a very close, very fun fight.
Standard MMA playbook clearly indicated where we go from here. Two words: immediate, rematch.
Yet you mention this in regards to Frankie and all you get are eye rolls and disappointed sighs. “Frankie keeps rematching people!” the angry fan complains. “I’m tired of lightweight getting help up by Frankie Edgar fights! It’s not fair to the division. It’s boring! I don’t like Frankie Edgar! BOOOOOO!”
There’s so much wrong with this sentiment that I don’t even know where to start, but let’s start with a question: Have you seen any of Frankie’s fights recently? His series with Gray Maynard is one of the best trilogies in MMA history, if not the best. Maynard vs. Frankie II was the fight of the year last year, and Maynard vs. Edgar III wasn’t far behind.
And before that, Edgar’s series with BJ Penn was a technical masterpiece par excellence. I’ll admit Penn vs. Edgar I was a tad slow, but it was hardly a snoozer by any stretch of the imagination. And Penn vs. Edgar II was a masterclass in all-round MMA that showed fully the evolution of Edgar.
Those were fights that were not only entertaining, but significant to the history of MMA. They represented the end of the Penn era of the division.
Now the fan complains about too many immediate rematches. Apparently, the deluge of world-class, FOTY candidates Edgar has been having while champion are crap because they’ve been with the same people. Let’s get the division moving again, man!
First off: The division is “moving along” just fine. The time spent on the Maynard/Edgar series last year let the division sort itself out after the influx of talent from the WEC. Benson Henderson emerged as a clear No. 1 contender, and look how that worked out. Anthony Pettis set himself as a potential contender for the title with his win last night, but Jim Miller and Nate Diaz are right on his heels.
My point is there’s still more “sorting” that can be done, allowing time for the UFC to do the right thing, and give Edgar an immediate rematch against Ben Henderson.
OK, I shouldn’t say “right thing” because it makes this sound like some holier-than-thou crusade rather than my personal opinion. And really, there’s nothing wrong with giving Pettis the next shot at the belt. He’s a big name, has history with the champion and will put on guaranteed fireworks. I could see the UFC going that way and I wouldn’t be (too) ticked off about it.
But to my mind, Edgar has earned his rematch. Whatever you think of his style or the way he wins fights, he’s gutted it out as champion almost two years now—an eternity in MMA—and given us some absolute classics on the process. He deserves a chance to win back the belt he lost in a close decision.
And it was a close decision, folks, no matter what Frankie’s face looked like post-fight. Many fans seem content to judge a fight by how “damaged” a fighter looks afterwards. That’s a fine system I guess, but it’s not the one the judges use to pick a winner. And if we can give GSP the nod over Penn in their first fight, Diego Sanchez the nod over Martin Kampmann and Leonard Garcia the nod over most anybody, we have to at least consider the notion that Edgar/Henderson II isn’t ridiculous on its face.
FightMetric scored the hotly debated Penn vs. Jon Fitch draw 29-28 for Fitch, with a performance score of 273-159. That’s a 114-point difference. That’s a fight that, if you recall, was scheduled to get an immediate rematch before Fitch took an arrow to the—no…must…not make….overused…Skyrim joke.
I don’t even play Skyrim. What the hell am I talking about?
Right, FightMetric. They scored Bendo vs. Frankie 388-285 in total performance score, while giving the nod on the cards to Benson. That’s a 103-point difference.
What’s my point? In the aforementioned case, a 114-point difference in a draw, in a non-title fight, was enough to merit an immediate rematch. Yet a 103-point difference, in an extremely close, fun world title match…isn’t?
When Penn dropped the belt to Edgar, FightMetric scored it 373-263 total performance rating for Penn. That difference of 90 points was enough to merit a near-automatic immediate rematch with Edgar for Penn. Yet Benson’s 103-point victory over Frankie is a win set in stone, beyond reproach or controversy?
Frankie’s earned his rematch, folks. I’m not saying it has to happen or even that it will. If he has to go to the back of the line, so be it. Life goes on, and I’m sure Pettis vs. Henderson II will be a barnburner.
But some part of me is hoping that the UFC—and MMA fans, to whom they must cater—give the former champ the respect due to a man who’s held a title for two years, bested a pound-for-pound great to get it and was in last year’s Fight of the Year.
What more must a man do to earn your guys' respect?